Friday, April 30, 2010

Flea Market

An earlier version of this piece originally appeared at the Old School Heretic Blog.

Back past the less well-lit streets and canals that connect the Low Esplanades with the Waterfront to the not so nice parts of the districts just behind them, there are a set of decrepit and run-down rampways that will take one past the neglected domains overrun by roacher-gangs and other unpleasant sorts.  The rampways are all marked pheromonally and otherwise so that the verministas and their ilk usually avoid them.  Usually.  You'd best take along an escort just in case.  Only a fool or a low-born would dare to travel in those places alone, especially at night.

Yes.  I said night.  The market is a nocturnal one and they operate on the Sub-Lunar Calendar, so you'd best consult one of the cthonorreries before you leave just to make sure that it is an auspicious time for your visit.  Also make sure that you leave behind any House currencies that you might have considered taking along -- using House coinage marks you as a newcomer and the merchants will be encouraged to take advantage of you, as is their right.  Be sure to take along a decent assortment of currencies, not just one denomination or type and absolutely avoid large sums of precious metals as you never quite know which way the exchange rates have gone this time.  They fluctuate like the weather.

You downloaded the visitor tutorial and reference like I suggested, correct?  Good.  You had better.  The fleas dislike gawkers and they take exception to people who waste their time without tipping.  And whatever you do, make certain that you do not mention any damn fool nonsense about plagues or feeling ill while you are in their domain, and make no mistake about it, you shall be in their domain and operating under their sufferance and their rules while you are in the market.  If you have the bad taste to insult the fleas, they will not hesitate to infect you with a dozen different encrypted-contagions that no one else even has a name for, let alone any hope of curing them.  For your own sake, make every effort to show respect and do not get them riled.  If you are generous and mind your manners, the fleas can help you find quite a number of things that can be found nowhere else in all the waking worlds or dreaming realms and they will bargain with you fairly, so long as you don't infringe upon their rituals or rules -- so familiarize yourself with the tutorial before you run off all wild eyed and without a care in the world.

Now remember, this is not like the Open Market that you've already visited in your dreams, though there are dreams for sale in this market, this is a manifest place, very real and very dangerous to the unwary or the foolish.  Slavers pay handsomely for good stock such as yourself and once you leave the grid and go off beyond the cameras, dronecops and monitors you're considered fair game.   I've lost several otherwise promising students to this market.  I know that I can't talk you out of this trip.  You still think it's exciting.  An adventure.  I just hope you make it back is all.

Look, take this.  It's a luxwand.  My great grandsib carried it into battle during the Black Bastion Riots and it has served six generations of my genelineage very well.  No.  I'm serious.  Take it.  You may need it, and by all the Embodied Principles if you have cause to use it, do not hesitate.  Use it.

Well.  I guess you're as ready as you'll ever be.  Good shopping cousin.

Surrealism and Sorcerous Pursuits, Part One

"Each of us, in his timidity, has a limit beyond which he is outraged.  It is inevitable that he who by concentrated application has extended this limit for himself, should arouse the resentment of those who have accepted conventions which, since accepted by all, require no initiative of application.  And this resentment generally takes the form of meaningless laughter or criticism, if not of persecution.  But this apparent violation is preferable to the monstrous habits condoned by etiquette and aestheticism"
Man Ray, The Age of Light (1933)

It should come as no surprise that the number one threat to a sorcerer is another sorcerer.  Scholars oppose and thwart other scholars, adepts face-off against rival adepts, heretics and cultists fear their peers and fellows far more than any outsider.  In Riskail, as in life after Walt Kelly's Pogo, we are each our own worst enemies.  And that is with dopplegangers, feral reflections, autonomous simulacrae, disentangled shadows, clones, clobots, and virtual avatars clamoring for attention and vying to become the dominant expression of those personalities they have seceeded from or seek to replace.  A sorcerer can, and often quite literally is, their own most dangerous rival.  A sobering thought for some, a cautionary tale for others an unparalleled challenge to the most narcissistic and a tragic outcome for those wracked with self-loathing.  The old admonition to 'Know Thyself' is no trivial cliche in Riskail.

Consider that one of the earliest techniques most earnestly sought-out amongst some sorcerers (and a few others as well...) is the means and methodologies employed in crafting a sympathetic portrait of themself, one that they enmesh themselves with body and soul so that it takes on the corruption, taint, toxicity and negative traits that otherwise would cripple or kill them like a sorcerous empowered morality-filter.  These paintings are much sought-after by those driven to gain direct, personal experience at any cost, those who desire to sample forbidden things, and those who would defer the cost of their activities to another, later date.  But these paintings only defer the inevitable, they do not endlessly absorb the badness, ugliness, hurts and wounds suffered by their subject, they merely accumulate those things until such a time as saturation is reached and then there is a price to pay, a horrific price that will assuredly be paid.  Though there are those who think that thay are clever enough to find some way to escape the inevitable, to cheat their painting and remain forever young, incorruptible, vibrant and unmarked by any and all excess or wickedness.  None have ever escaped their fate, no matter how lengthy the reprieve their painting granted them.

A sympathetic painting reveals much about its subject, alas all too often far too late for them to do anything about such knowledge.  But it is a folly of youth and a vice of the young to seek cheap and easy immortality, is it not?

"An effort impelled by desire must also have an automatic or subsconscious energy to aid its realization.  The reserves of this energy within us are limitless if we draw on them without a sense of shame or propriety.  Like the scientist who is merely a prestidigitator manipulating the abundant phenomena of nature and profiting by every so-called hazard or law, the creator dealing in human values allows the subconscious forces to filter through him, coloured by his own selectivity, which is universal human desire, and exposes to the light motives and instincts long repressed, which should form the basis of a confident fraternity.  The intensity of this message can be disturbing only in proportion to the freedom that has been given to automatism or the subconscious self.  The removal of inculcated modes of presentation, resulting in apparent artificiality or strangeness, is a confirmation of the free functioning of this automatism and is to be welcomed."
Man Ray, The Age of Light (1933)

The realization of desire via the automatic or spontaneous release of limitless subconscious energies drawn from deep within the practitioner by way of various secret and aesthetic efforts rooted in ritual and art.  Not a bad definition of sorcery.  Surrealism has a great deal to offer any would-be sorcerer.
Dictionary: Surrealism, n. Pure psychic automatism, by which one proposes to express, either verbally, in writing, or by any other manner, the real functioning of thought. Dictation of thought in the absence of all control exercised by reason, outside of all aesthetic and moral preoccupation.  (after Breton's definition)

Encyclopedia: Surrealism. Philosophy. Surrealism is based on the belief in the superior reality of certain forms of previously neglected associations, in the omnipotence of dream, in the disinterested play of thought. It tends to ruin once and for all other psychic mechanisms and to substitute itself for them in solving all the principal problems of life. [Surrealist Manifesto; Breton, Andre; 1924]
The omnipotence of dream combined with the disinterested play of thought sounds vaguely Zen-like, until you read further into Breton's work.  Trust me: a little Andre Breton can go a long way.  Really.  The basic concepts and some of the techniques of Surrealism, especially after Breton managed to run-off any other contenders or claimants to the term in the Twenties, are absolutely fascinating both in terms of art and in manufacturing an approach to sorcery.  With all due respect and to paraphrase Aragon: There are other relationships besides the real that the mind can grasp and which are just as primary, such as chance, illusion, the fantastic, the dream. These diverse species are united and reconciled in sorcery, at least in Riskail.

Of all the various techniques experimented with and explored by the Surrealists, I feel that Automatism and Oneiristry are two of the most interesting from the stand-point of a sorcerer, so I'm leaning towards making them Class Abilities.  The rest of the Techniques below are derived from actual Surrealist techniques (see link above), but have been adapted to better reflect the needs and activities of a sorcerer in Riskail.  They're still a bit rough around the edges, but it's a start and I expect to revise and edit this list several more times before it's finalized.  Even then it'll probably get expanded or improved upon as it gets used by play-testers and other people.

A Sorcerer gets to select 1-10 of these techniques based upon their Wisdom, Intelligence or Charisma, depending on which attribute they designate for the acquisition of powers.  What I'm seeing here is that a sorcerer would get to pick and choose a few techniques that they cna then work with to help shape, influence, modify and adapt their spells.  Thus those subconscious powers are filtered through them, colored by their individual selectivity.  The list below is a bit larger than I expect to have once I've gone over everything and sorted it all out as to which ones make better spells or spell-components.  Most likely the Techniques will get boiled down to a few (like say 10) common ones like Automatism and Oneiristry, and a few (like say 20) Extraordinary ones like Sympathetic Paintings (see above).
(I'll post the pertinent tables after I get the whole Attribute to Chakra stuff wrapped-up and posted first.)

This is all a work-in-progress, so it's still sort of rough and definitely subject to change and revision.

An Incomplete Survey of Surrealist to Sorcery Techniques

Aerography is a technique in which a 3-dimensional object is used as a stencil with spraypainting, aerosol pigments, tint-mists or other means. Nanopaints have been developed that allow the sorcerer to manipulate the paint in response to the movement of the object to create three-dimensional animations, reverse forms and to craft mockeries and replicas that are extremely convincing optically, yet are completely hollow and false-forms.

Automatism. Automatic writing, painting and drawing. Surrealist automatism is often scrupulously differentiated from mediumistic automatism, what was once termed psychography, but if you dig back into the roots of the movement and Andre Breton's own experiments, there is less and less of a distinction to be made that really matters in any significant way. The distinction is one that moderns insist upon as they tend to see the more mediumistic practices as the outdated and unfortunate relics of outre beliefs that are no longer in fashion. Whatever. Automatism is about contacting the unconscious, creating things spontaneously and without conscious or critical self-editing. One enters into a 'Wave of Dreams,' assumes a trance as Desnos was reputed to have done, and that allows them to get on with the work of revealing, uncovering clues and images that lie dormant within the materials used or within the subconscious of the artist involved.

Bulletism is literally shooting ink at a blank piece of paper or a suitably bare wall. The artist can then develop images based on whatever forms and shapes present themselves in the course of the shooting. Some sorcerers can string together random bullet holes with various media in order to fashion peculiar glyphs, sigils, or other forms that can then be used for a variety of purposes ranging from divination to spell-delivery mechanisms, to phantasmal frameworks and even spontaneous pseudo-golems. One sorcerer at least has also mastered the art of creating a negative sculpture by manipulating the implied space outlined by random bullet holes while in the midst of combat during a period of civil unrest. Another is reported to have mastered the means of using the form created by Bulletism to draw out already spent bullets from walls, doors and dead bodies and form them into a violent construct.

Calligrammes are text or poetry in which the words or letters make up a shape, particularly a shape connected to the subject of the text or poem, which are then released as short-term dream-fragments, feral figments, phantasms, shadow-glyphs or similar structures. A version of this technique is used to summon a variety of creatures, some of which appear to be made-up on the spot by improvisational sorcerers.

Collage is a method of assemblage that uses different forms to create a new whole. Where artists once used ribbon, photographs and newspapers to form the basis of their collages, sorcerers can work with anything including body parts, machine parts, shadows,colored lights or different types of liquids, so long as they possess the means to properly manipulate the media either manually or through telekinesis or otherwise. Frankenstein's mythic creation would e considered a cadaverous collage in Riskail.

Coulage is a kind of automatic or involuntary sculpture made by pouring a molten material (such as metal, wax or chocolate) into cold water (or other clear fluid) and as such it resembles the age-old practice of divination where an egg is dropped into a glass of water such as was toyed with in Salem just before the trials. In coulage, the material employed takes on either a random or a revealed/aleatoric form, based upon the specific properties of the materials involved. A sorcerer can make use of more than one material at a time or in succession, both for divination and for servitor-construction and other applications.

Cubomania is a method of making collages in which a picture, drawing, painting or psychograph is cut into squares and then reassembled into a fresh image. Other geometrical forms can also be used.

Cut-ups are a technique in which a particular text is cut up at random and rearranged to create a new text, or one could just as easily randomly number the lines of a text and roll dice to determine their order and sequence. Nostradamus employed this technique with his cryptic prophecies, so it has a very long pedigree. Converting an existing scroll or text into a cut-up work can drastically alter the effects and outcomes, often in wildly unforeseen ways. A variation on the cut-up technique is the game called latent news in which a text of one type or another is cut into individual words (or perhaps phrases) and then rapidly reassembled to create a new text altogether.

Decalcomania is a process of spreading thick paint upon a prepared surface and then—while it is still wet—covering it with further material such as paper, canvas or aluminium foil. This second covering is then removed before the paint fully dries, and the resultant pattern becomes the basis of the finished painting. One can also pour paints out into a tub of water and then drag paper or other materials across the surface of the water/oil to pick-up the paints/pigments, similar to

Drafting a Dream résumé takes the form of an employment résumé but chronicles the sorcerer's achievements, employment, or the like, in dreams, rather than in waking life. Most also have references, locales explored, etc. Obscure references are extremely easy to come by, but acquiring a reference that is more easily tracked-down by others or shared with a larger group, that is far more prestigious precisely because it is verifiable and provable.

Echo poems are poems composed by one or more persons, working together in a process in which each stanza is "mirrored" it in some fashion to create the following stanza and the last line most often serves as the title. In Riskail an echo poem is a type of spell that is composed forwards and backwards simultaneously, often via some form of automatism, and they almost always have some sort of mirroring effect bound up with them, either in terms of their components (mirrors) or repeatable effects.

Eclaboussure is the technique where pigments (oil paints or watercolors are good choices) are laid down and water, gasoline or turpentine is splattered over the paint and then the solvents are soaked up to reveal random patterns where the media was removed. This effect can be incorporated into a variety of glyph-making, visual spell-media, talismanics, etc. At least one forensic necromanceress has developed a means of applying this technique to the blood of innocent victims, the pattern revealed by the removal of the blood forms an image that explains or details the means of death and sometimes the killer.

Entoptic graphomania is the automatic method of drawing in which dots are made wherever one finds any impurities in a blank sheet of paper a wall or someone's skin, and lines (either curving or straight) are then drawn between the dots to reveal a pattern similar to the age-old methods of geomancy, only this pattern is directly tied into the material (or location or person) one is drawing upon, thus it can be more finely tuned to acquire more intimate information. This is sometimes used as a non-invasive form of interrogation.

Étrécissements (Anti-collage) Where collage adds pieces together to form a whole, Étrécissements are achieved by the cutting away of parts of images to carve out a new form from out of the old. This is sometimes taken up by the more sadistic sorts and then applied to various forms of reductive dermabrasion, flensing, flaying or outright cutting into muscle and bone. It can also be employed on inanimate objects and can be mistaken for skrimshaw in some cases.

Exquisite corpse or Cadavre exquis is a method by which a collection of words or images are collectively assembled. It is based on an old parlor game known by the same name (and also as Consequences) in which players wrote in turn on a sheet of paper, folded it to conceal part of the writing, and then passed it to the next player for a further contribution.

Found Objects are randomly acquired objects of everyday provenance that take on special meaning according to the way they were found, acquired or discovered and thus are well-suited for the creation of spontaneous amulets and involuntary talismans or ritual objects.

Frottage is a method of creation in which one takes a pencil or other drawing tool and makes a "rubbing" over a textured surface. The texture so captured by the scraping of the drawing tool over the surface serves as the basis of an image to be used in various forms of divination, glyphistry, or whatever. Enough samples gathered in this way can be compounded into a servitor. It is also rumored that there are secret geomantic techniques for unlocking such rubbings as though they were keys to the surfaces so captured, possibly allowing for apportative effects.

Fumage is a technique in which impressions are made by the smoke of a candle or lamp on a piece of paper, canvas or other surface. One can then work with the image made thus or further work it into a more refined image through other techniques.  A variation on fumage could be 'umbrage,' whereby one works the shadow-stuff into new forms, literally the sculpting of shadows.

Games. In sorcery as in surrealism, games are important as a means of investigation and competition. The intention in most such efforts is to cut away the restrictions imposed by the rational mind and allow things to develop more freely in a more spontaneous, free-flowing and random manner. The aim is to break rigidly held patterns of thought and facilitate original outcomes that would not have been possible through other means.

Grattage is a technique in which paint is scraped off the canvas, but the technique can be used in a variety of other media or applications whereby a layer can be removed to reveal something of interest below.  A logical extensionof this technique would include removing layers of skin or flesh from a target, possibly at a distance by rubbing a blade over a textured rubbing already keyed to the target by a bit of frottage previously.

Heatage is an automatic technique in which the subject is heated (usually from below) to the point of distortion in a random fashion. Some sorcerers have mastered the ability to manipulate this distortion as though sculpting warm clay.

Indecipherable writing is intentionally made illegible in such a manner as to confuse and befuddle anyone attempting to decipher it without the appropriate key-word or phrase.  This could very well be the basis of a physical form of cryptography.

Involuntary sculpture are those made by absent-mindedly manipulating some minor everyday object such as rolling and unrolling a lottery ticket, bending and re-bending a paper clip, or manipulating a bar of soap so as to create new and previously unforeseen forms that can then serve as visual catalysts for divination, spell work or even the creation of minor constructs.

Movement of liquid down a vertical surface is, as the name suggests, a technique of making pictures by dripping or allowing a flow of some form of liquid down a vertical surface.  Not the most exciting of premises or ideas, but it could take on whole new levels of meaning and menace when coupled with a Pendulum, guillotine, or perhaps an iron maiden...

Outagraphy is a photograph in which the subject is cut out so that it becomes a negative space.  Does this remove the object, block its effect upon an area, or banish/collapse it into a void-space until re-summoned?

Paranoiac-critical method is a technique invented by Salvador Dalí which consists of the artist invoking a paranoid state (fear that the self is being manipulated, targeted or controlled by others). The result is a deconstruction of the psychological concept of identity, such that subjectivity becomes the primary aspect of the artwork.

Parsemage is an automatic method in which charcoal or chalk dust is scattered on the surface of water and then skimmed off by passing a stiff paper or cardboard just under the water's surface.  Any fine dust that will float via surface tension on oil or water can be used for this technique, and it might be usable for determining the course of events in a particular area such as a battlefield or ancient ruin.  Perhaps if one used the dust of a mummy or other undead, it would be possible to learn some of their secrets, gain access to their long forgotten lore and spells?  Dangerous, but you know someone will try it.

Psycho/Photomontage is making of composite picture by cutting and pasting any number of photographs, psychographs or other images.  Done automatically, this would be a highly visual form of divination.  It can also be applied to video.

Soufflage is a technique in which liquid (usually) paint is blown (often by a straw) to create an image.  This might be a good way to develop particular forms of sigils or glyphs, maybe even used ritually to incorporate breathe into the symbolism, perhaps in the case of animating origami, awakening calligraphy or creating ink-sprites.

Time Travelers' Potlatch is a game in which two or more players say what gift they would give to another person, usually an historical person, personal ancestor or a descendant. Then one player has to get the gift delivered to that person while the other player(s) try to stop them. Obviously this is not so simple a game as time travel of some sort is implied.

Triptography is an automatic psycho/photographic technique whereby a roll of film is used three times (either by the same photographer or, in the spirit of Exquisite Corpse, three different photographers), causing it to be triple-exposed in such a way that the chances of any single photograph having a clear and definite subject is nearly impossible.
There, now that we have a list of these things, I can begin to work out which ones make better spells or which of them only work as forms of divination or creative expression.  Several of these techniques can be combined or rolled-into one another as sub-sets of each other.  I'll also break out the games like Consequences and Time Traveler's Potlatch so that I can get the tables and rules worked out for running them as part of a sorcerous salon.  Then there's the whole joining/getting kicked out of a Movement, forming Cliques, and of course Manifestos, both as magical items and as weapons.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

A More Immersive Reality: Gamers of Jontolon, Oracles and Casino-Arenas

This article is an extract of all the Riskail-related details from the TED Thursday feature over at the Old School Heretic Blog.  Feel free to click over there to read the original article in all its glory.
Games are integral to Surrealism and they are intrinsic to the underlying cultures of Riskail, including the virts and the isocolonials who have withdrawn into their fortified arcologies to totally immerse themselves in their games and constructs, having no further use for what once passed for consensual reality.  Polite Society recognizes the utility of various forms of gambling and duelling as means of both maintaining the peace and providing an outlet for competition and the regulation of opinion.  In that respect things are a bit more medieval than expected.  You literally have to back-up your opinions with force of arms, not just in academia, but in society as a whole.  In Academia things are less straight-forward and there are far more opportunities for ambushes, assassination attempts and worse.  There may be honor amongst thieves, but precious little amongst the grad students jockeying for a shot at their mentors and their position within the hierarchy.
The practice of utilizing ritualized games distributed via social networks to solve large-scale problems, plan macro-scale projects, or to wage distributed warfare against various Outside Interests, is nothing new to Riskail.  Ever since the Gamers of Jontolon won their bloodless war of independence without firing so much as a single shot, gaming has been an accepted, proven and honored component of the Rituals and Codes of Civilization.  Hives, nodes and complexes of gamers who've eschewed meatforms and colonized various dataspheric regions enmasse are recognized as equivalent to many similar-sized city-states.  Some of these nodes have become incredibly influential, such as the Estarza Goldrim who are engaged in the macroscale terraforming of worlds along the periphery of those accessed by the primary gate-networks or the Ielzuud Collekt, an eccentric collective that is obsessed with mega-engineering of system-scale construct-artforms in orbit around obscure stars outside the bounds of the Known Worlds.  Another group of disembodied gamers occupy the so-called Green Level from which they disperse an inconceivable array of biomorphisms across the void in their efforts to foment panspermia, not as a past theory, but as a present practice.  Others are less grandiose either in scale or efforts, but they are forces to be reckoned with nonetheless.
Another gamerphorm are the Oracles, (see illo above) massive and often impassive sculpted material-form entities that act as avatars for gamer-collectives or open-ended contributor networks that listen in to supplicants and plaintiffs seeking solutions to various problems which they then voluntarily take on, wrestle with, and either solve or address in their own ways.  Oracles wander across the settled regions of Known Worlds, some travel widely, others remain mostly within one urban district.  All of them are dedicated composite entities that originally had no real personality apart from the vestiges and aspects left-behind by those who chose to work through them from the dataside.  Over time they have become unique individuals in their own right, some of whom have adopted distinct names for themselves, and a few who have developed their own processing capabilities apart and aside from those of the virts and softborn who still collaborate with them, and who are now sometimes their petitioners as well.
Games embody humanity's attempts at unravelling the dynamics of chance or expressing and exploring the interplay of probability, or so say the gamblemancers who treat everything in their immediate experience as a sacred game of chance played between them and the universe.  As far as sects go, they are minor and relatively obscure, considered mostly harmless, and uncommon enough that no registered study has been undertaken by any reputable academic.
The Casinos of Riskail are notorious for offering their patrons a chance to participate in any game they care to mention.  The Bosses take this pledge to heart like a mantra seared across the mechanism that passes for their hearts and they go to extreme lengths to accomodate the whims and wishes of their patrons irregardless of ethics, morality, legalities or anything else.  As long as the price is right, they'll set things up, no questions asked.  There are no judges in the Casinos, apart from those who might be amongst the other players in the crowd, and they're none too eager to be identified.  Morality is best left at the door, or so goes the old saying attributed to Parmedreon, one of the last known aspects of the Embodied Principle of Honesty.  Of course Parmedreon was murdered in an alley by assailant or assailants unknown and so far unapprehended.  It's only been three hundred years, give or take a decade.
The Arenas are directly tied into the Casinos, and the gladiatorial pens are Casino property, which makes them morally autonomous as excluded sovreign territories that are technically no longer part of Polite Society, despite all appearances to the contrary.  The Casinos are a culture unto themselves, one that operates along opaque and byzantine rules known only unto itself and those who gain admission to the virtulects, philosatars or other dataside communities that have elected to segregate themselves behind the black voidwalls of the Casinos' residential datasperes where they engage in games so far removed from anything that the occupants of meatspace can even conceive that it is literally unspeakable, unthinkable and unimaginable.  Even the AI require dedicated filters to interface with the Casinos.
But not all gamers in Riskail are disembodied or virts.  There are numerous groups who sponsor competitors who settle new worlds, explore ancient ruins, develop trade routes, just about any activity that results in some sort of economic or social gain for some group out there has its own sponsors, supporters and circuit of competitions, many of which are fed into the datasphere and voyeuristically enjoyed by uncountable numbers of virtual spectators for all time to come.  Any and every form of adventure is a commercial commodity, one that can make more money for a roving band of mercenaries than fighting ever could.
There are also the games of the sorcerers which they play at their various salons, museum-gatherings, gallery-showings, and other rendezvous-style events.  New spells are demonstrated prior to being released into the Open Source Databases and competitions are held where specific old spells are redesigned or modified and the results of each competitor's efforts are compared and voted on by a jury of their peers.  Contests are held that play off of the old idea of cut-ups, one-in-the-other or the exquisite corpse games of old.  Only with real scrolls, actual objects and sometimes fresh corpses.  Homunculi-gladiators face-off in clandestine combats outside the Casinos, at least until the Bosses find out and move to bring the fights under house sanction and they get their cut, one way or another.  The sponsored contests between competing sorcerers and biomantists, genartists and scylloi-traditionalists are some of the most highly anticipated, violently fought and lucrative events that the Bosses have found and they have made great efforts to recruit and sponsor more and more up-and-coming competitors, often allowing dangerous individuals from outside the established cliques, cadres or colleges to come and try their luck in the arenas.  People love an underdog.  And the media surrounding these competitors serves as the fodder for countless telenovelas, psychodramas and other popular forms of mass entertainment.
Each of the Grand Houses of Riskail maintains a pool of competitors who represent them in the various games, both sacred and profane, that take place throughout the year.  Sometimes the Houses use the competitions to settle old disputes, other times it's a way to avoid ruinous internecine wars.  Some of the newer Houses have disdained to compete and lost their credibility or found themselves besieged by rioters who demanded that they field a competitor for one of the Four Great Games which have been a tradition in Riskail for over a thousand years.
The Great Games combine the Olympics with a planetary-scale circus and what amounts to a small-scale ritualized war within a contained space that is set-off from the rest of the world just for the Games and every gladiator, combat-thespian, cutter-clown, wrestler and extremiac in the near vicinty of Riskail participates.  It's a good way to make a killing, amongst other things.  It's certainly immersive.

"Instead of providing gamers with better and more immersive alternatives to reality, I want all of us to become responsible for providing the world with a better and more immersive reality."

Thursday, April 22, 2010

City Thoughts

Cities should not only be places where people live, but ought to be alive themselves...or at least there is every indication that there will be cities that develop into living meta-organisms.  Maybe they'll develop a personality unto themselves.  Consider the implication of a sort of reverse-anthropomorphism; instead of projecting human values/traits onto inanimate structures, we'll be experiencing these structure's traits and values in their own right.  Will we get along or will there be conflicts between living cities and their inhabitants?  Will cities develop sentience?  Should they?  Who would oppose such a thing, and who would push for it to happen against all opposition?  What will a truly New City be like?

Riskail is a mostly desolate world, pock-marked and heavily cratered, where life huddles in the deep ravines and vast chasms left in the wake of a series of massively destructive geologic events that included the eruption of a super-volcano that was triggered by the impact of a cometary core that might have been a deliberate act.  The Great Rift is home to several independent city-states, the largest and most prosperous is Devukarsha, the so-called City of Tiers.  Devukarsha is a thriving, hustling, bustling megapolis that extends outwards across numerous worlds, planes and other spaces and even certain prescribed parallel timelines, as do almost all great cities that arise from the deep Infrastructure that propagates and maintains the various over-lapping and inter-penetrating/interconnected gate networks such as the Twelve Pylon Gates that pour forth the waters of twelve distant worlds, each filling a gargantuan harbor-basin that in turn flows into the cascading torrent of the staggered waterfall that becomes the very headwaters of the River Senube which flows outwards into an estuary-zone where dozens of smaller, lesser and minor gates connect with various tributary worlds, most of which are virgin wildernesses or hellish wastelands.  Out past the Lacework Atolls and the floating wharves, in the deeper waters closer to the equator, the Sea Gates blend together the atmospheres and hydrospheres of countless worlds into a unified meta-ecology that zeppelins, steamers & sailing ships, cargo-carrying macro-barges and flocks of migratory birds all use to travel from world to world to world as they spiral around and around.  Then there are the Mugallo Arches that form an ever-expanding tesseractive labyrinth of overlapping worlds that reaches outwards unto entirely new galaxies and the Obelisk Gates previously detailed, just to name two more such networks.  The city is huge, vast; it contains multitudes on myriad levels both figuratively and literally.
"Devukarsha squats provocatively over the River Senube and its attendant canals as it welcomes all the world to come unto it, enter it, and become infected by it like some fat, overly-decorated whore from one of the impromptu sailor's markets down along the waterfront."
The Poet-Martyr Vu-Chong
Twelve Primary Tiers have been elegantly sculpted out of the overlapping layers of regolith and fractured bedrock left in the wake of the cosmic violence that shaped Riskail.  Each Tier is an ecology unto itself, yet they all interact as part of a greater whole.  The oghmic-tribes wander the old growth forests cultivated deep within various subsidiary canyons while tall cernun, sleek hourynn and luminous dryanni tend to the forty-thousand different species of trees that grow down the jumbled and tumbled sides of their canyon-preserves to form copses and woodlands extending across and over and through the main precincts of the main cluster of the megapolis into the estuarial parks and down to the shores of the central sea itself.  Green parklands, botanical gardens, herbariums, mycodomes, and jewel-like hothouses in a multitude of designs and geometrical shapes criss-cross the entire expanse of the city-state.  Trails extend outwards from the very heart of the most central urban districts to the farthest agrifields, freeholds, isogardens and the wilderness regions beyond.  On foot, by bike or tram, however one chooses, the most crowded sections of the city are less than ten minutes away from the howling wilderness, and that is without resorting to the gates or the more rapid forms of mass transit that flow seamlessly beneath the skin of the city.  Self-pedalling rikshaws prowl the lower esplanades looking for passengers, while translucent streetcars connect a series of platforms that extend from the waterfront to the Second Tier.  Like electricity, fresh water, clean air or greenspaces, public transport is just another amenity that has assumed the ubiquity of a civic-right.  It's expected.  Taken for granted.

Utopia?  Hardly.  Beautiful, certainly.  It should be; it was designed to be beautiful.  Many of the people who live within the city were likewise designed to fulfill their roles or obligations to Society as well.  But the designers, the care-taking machines, the self-perpetuating Infrastructure and all the other features, functions and processes intrinsic and endemic to urban existence in Devukarsha can not do a thing about human naturePeople are people, no matter if they have enough to eat, a place to live or mechanical slaves to handle all the drudgery for them, they will always find the fly in the ointment, the flaws to complain about, the things that they cannot have and desperately want all the more precisely because they are out of reach.  Just as in all of previous human history, one thing leads to another and someone lets loose a smart-ass serpent in the garden.

Survival is not enough.

The City knows this, understands it on a level that the inhabitants are incapable of appreciating. In a million little decisions and subtle choices behind the scenes, the City acts to maintain a healthy and prosperous balance, to perpetuate itself and provide for its inhabitants.  All of its inhabitants.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Only Human

"Nothing that is Human is Alien to Me"
What does it mean to be human?  Defining 'human' and what constitutes humanity is a central theme of a great deal of literature. I've been digging through a variety of Buddhist, Theosophist, Rosicrucian and other manuscripts for a while now, and so for a slight change of pace I thought that I'd see what an atheist thought on this matter. If you plug in "Defining Human" into Google, you'll find a LOT of alternatives if you dislike the following quote:
"The present limits of our concept of humankind are not obvious and not universal. They have been attained as the product of a long, hard struggle in the Western world to find a way of understanding humanity which embraces communities formerly excluded by racism and ethnocentrism, while insisting on a clear distinction between humans and non-humans."
by Felipe Fernandez-Armesto
No, that doesn't define human, but it states the problem we run into when we attempt to define humanity and the guy does it really well, or so I thought. It's a thorny issue, and one that is increasingly getting serious scrutiny as all sorts of legalities will be getting dragged into the mix as technology ramps up and we start seeing the benefits and after-shocks of the Human Genome Project and other, similar endeavors that are bringing us all sorts of ways to discriminate against people that our ancestors couldn't have even imagined possible.  But apart from the fairly low-level stuff like insurance companies rejecting or dropping people based upon their genetic pre-disposition to various health risks, just wait until we get such fun stuff as home-cloning kits.  We already are wrestling with the ethical, moral and legal ramifications of products derived from human tissues -- and the questions of who can patent/own such things and whether or not doing so is slavery, child abuse, or an abomination that must be stopped at all costs...or another aspect of progress (with a capital P), technological development that has transcended the boundaries of conventional human experience, and just the tip of the whole biological remodelling-renaissance awaiting us on the otherside of the Singularity. This is some serious stuff.  In fact the struggle to define humanity is at the very crux and heart of the emerging culture war between the semi-new religion of Science/Technology (the church of the singularity?) and the established/traditional faiths. Forget Conservatives versus Liberals; this fight will be much more interesting, and potentially far more lively, active and extreme. In fact the only thing that will likely get even more heated will be the debate over artificial intelligence and what Hugo de Garis calls Artilects, such as he details in his book The Artilect War.

So defining humanity going forwards will be just as messy as it always has been in the past, and it is extremely likely that the process is going to be a stressful, potentially militant/violent process that will have at least two major influences on the outcome rooted in technology and our response/reaction to them. Cool. Drama, conflict, tension and the swelter of ideas and beliefs that come from this will drive loads of good soap opera-esque fiction where people work out the various fears, fallacies and radical truths that come part and parcel with the new technology, just like how folks worked out the whole end-of-life issue. Oops. Guess we'll have to settle that one as well. What will happen if a person is brought back from death by way of some sort of AI-based personality recording--are they still the same person with all attendant rights, or something else, something lesser/other? Man oh man do we ever have a lot of stuff to sort out, and I haven't even mentioned the implications of nanotechnology or eugenics yet.

"What's the future of mankind?  How do I know?  I got left behind."
I Don't Know, Ozzy
Humans currently delude themselves into believing the Victorian foolishness that we somehow dominate the world, which is utter bullshit.  We impose our culturally-mandated will upon the world based upon our politics, religions, technologies and economies, but the world responds, reacts and often lashes back.  Consider the last few hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and out-of-control fires that have been in the news in the last few months.  Humans had to fight like heck just to survive, escape or get things back to some semblance of normality in some pretty harsh circumstances, and in some cases things still aren't back to normal and may well never be.  Like it or not, Nature can sometimes veto our grand designs.

When you look at things outside the blinders of the 'Humans Rule' creed, you'll notice that our cities are extremely susceptible to environmental backlashes like flooding, earthquakes, mudslides, forest fires and so on and so forth.  Nature Rules.  At least for now.  Just think of how something as small and insignificant as a virus can play havoc with modern society--remember H1N1 or Avian Flu?  Viruses kick our collective butts more often than we'd like to admit or even think about.  But I'm not a fan of viruses.  Bacteria are more interesting.  Bacteria outnumber and inhabit and consume all living things on this planet and they also have a greater range of biomes they can inhabit to boot.  Plus they are older than we are.  They will survive any nuclear war we care to extinctify ourselves with and they are already colonizing the solar system (probably).  They may even have a form of collective intelligence/sentience.  We don't know if bacterial colonies can think or not.  Those giant mats off the coast of South America might be dreaming of shining flying purple wolfhounds, but we'd never know it, unless we listened to Jon Anderson, of course.   But that does not make them superior to humans, unless you want to strictly measure population, diversity, does get kind of one-sided, doesn't it?   The notion of bacterial intelligence is intriguing to me and I expect it to rear its amorphous faceless head in Riskail shortly.  But how will such things interact with humanity?  How will they challenge/change our definitions of human?  Then there is the matter of mycelial networks...thinking 'shrooms.  But mushrooms are not just for hippies anymore.  Check this out:

As if thinking goo or talking toadstools wasn't bad enough.  And it wasn't.  Consider this; both bacteria and fungi can colonize and infect human hosts.  If they are capable of intelligence, the infection could either extend their networked sentience into human bodies which are then used as vehicles, or maybe, just maybe the infection can bring about a bridge-event where they become able to communicate with us via their infected/enslaved hosts/ambassadors.  Just imagine bacterial colonies with PR staff and voting rights.  The mind reels.  But then Clades are very similar to the bacterial colonies in many important respects, and maybe the bacterial consciousness(es) will make themselves known through the various clades.  Each clade being derived from a central template-profile, each member of the clade being directly related to all other members of the clade has a lot in common with a bacterial colony.  Maybe they'll be in cahoots with one another, or secretly opposed to each others' nefarious plans, or locked in a bitter struggle for dominance with the human genome as their battlefield.  Could be a cool movie in there, and maybe Shatner might make a cameo.

Humans are already colonized by bacteria.  We are their hosts and their vehicles, and making the leap of having intelligent bacteria driving a body instead of the native human software isn't that much of a leap at all.  They could be out there even now, amongst us, unsuspected and working their weird wills upon the world looking like one of us.

Maybe we need more etheogenists out there trying to open up lines of communication before the mycological empire decides to eliminate us with tailored toxins.  Thanks to Stamet, I've been really digging into the information available on mushrooms and it is mind-boggling to say the least.  In Riskail there are mycelial colony-towers, fungal cysts, deliberately maintained old growth forests, and a dozen different varieties of fungal-descended hominids, some of which are more than partially human.  Some humans are likewise not colonized so much as hybridized with mycelial-derived genes such as the spore-nymphs.

But that goes well past uncomfortable through weird and on into stuff that doesn't even go half as far as Stamet is talking about doing in real life at his site.  Lovecraft has nothing on this guy, and his ideas are simply amazing -- and he may well end up changing the world in ways that nobody saw coming prior to him.

Maybe I should have started with the insects.  They outnumber us too, and they're also more diverse in over-all terms (collectively) but less well distributed and they really suck in terms of longevity and over-all GDP.  But that is now.  What will happen when someone designs modified bugs with enhanced brain-power, or when we decide to upgrade our pets with implantable PDA-esque chips, or some other, similar scenario?  Ever see the movie Them?  How about H. G. Wells' Empire of the Ants?  Telepathic Tyrant-Ants who enslave people?  Cool.  Those will make it into Riskail, definitely.  Ever hear of The Giant Spider Invasion?  Lame, but the little rolly-balls that crack open to release mutant spiders--that's a priceless gimmick.  Then there's Kingdom of the Spiders (with Shatner!) which promises that your nightmares will never be the same.  Yeah.  Well, maybe not so much.  Spider Labyrinth has some seriously creepy stuff going on but it quickly descends into WWE-level violence as burlesque.  The spider crawling back into the arm was very icky and will also make it into Riskail when I introduce the arachnohosts and the huskivite egg-tender cultists.

Insects make excellent cops and even better villains.  So do bureaucracies.  Insect-bureaucracies are incredibly frightening.  Humans with insect/arachnid/crustaceal attributes are incredibly old tropes; before Ditko sketched the first rendering of Spiderman there was Khepri, an ancient Egyptian deity with the head of a beetle.  Ever see Mimic

Unless you grow all of your own stuff on a hermetically-sealed asteroid farm, you already eat genetically modified food or foodstuffs that are tainted by them thanks to Big Agri-Business.  It's not a conspiracy theory, just a fact of modern life.  In many ways it's just the logical outcome of developing better breeding methods for livestock or Brother Mendel's experiments with pea plants.  We live in a time of technology that surpasses quite a bit of the prognostications of old science fiction and it's only getting warmed-up.  Change is accelerating.  So is stress.  The so-called Singularity, much like Mr. Hoover's  Greenspan's Bernanke's Prosperity, is supposedly just around the corner.  Even if it is, (whatever it winds up being), we probably won't recognize it until we're on the otherside looking back and academics are arguing over the semantics of the transition's description for the sake of the histories that they'll be composing for posterity or as part of a pernicious and venal info-war being waged over the ownership of the past.  So things will not have necessarily changed that much at least.  I won't even go into what happens if the singularity fails or stalls-out, though Vernor Vinge already has.

It's easy to see why so many people would prefer to go back to a supposedly 'simpler' time.  The
utopian impulse is nothing new.  Thomas Moore didn't invent it, he just wrote a book about it and got blamed for it ever afterwards.  Even Plato bitched about the disrespectful slacker-kids in his day in the Republic.  But all in all, there never were 'simpler' times, they were differently complicated and just as soap opera-esque as any period of human civilization.  If anything soap operas are what most of history revolves around; scandals, who's sleeping with whom, miscommunication, deceit, underhanded acts of emotional betrayal and sabotage, lies, damn lies, and so on.  One of the best ways to appreciate ancient Rome is to watch the BBC adaptation of Robert Graves'masterpiece of historical soap opera: I, Claudius.  There's more history oozing from Graves' work of fiction than some textbooks manage to deliver and it has Brian Blessed, Derek Jacobi, some guy named Patrick Stewart and the impossible to forget Sian Phillips as Livia.  Plus John Hurt as Caligula.  Oh just go watch the thing already!  If that doesn't get you interested in history, nothing will.  Two thousand years ago, give or take a few decades, and Claudius' Rome doesn't seem oh so simple after all, does it?

Imperial Rome, Big Business, Genetically-Modified Organisms, the Singularity, Nature flipping us the bird, extinctions, migrations, bacteria, Soap Operas, plagues: what does all that have to do with humans, the matter of races and sentient species in
Riskail?  Plenty.

The Human Descended include a variety of Ethnocentric Clans, Technocentric Clades and Biocentric Tribes as well as pseudo-nationalist Dynastic Groups and Lineages that merge and splinter to form the various minor and major Houses.  The affluent and prosperous Families form cliques and in time can gain standing as Nobles who form Lineages and Dynasties.  The less fortunate Families become Craftsfamilies if they join the Guilds and devote themselves to specific arts, crafts or technologies.  Others join the Unions and take up the tasks of maintaining and attending to civilization and society both in terms of the work of establishing culture, creating knowledge and defining, interpreting and critiquing all that is known.  At the bottom end of things are the faceless proletariat, people who occupy such a dim and distant position to those at the height of power that they register only as brownish-gray hazy smudges unless their social superiors actually make an effort to observe them.

Riskail is a classist society.  Not rigidly so, but definitely everyone has their place and it is a matter of public record.  Your allegiances and affiliations are socially obvious, unless one takes great pains to occlude the truth or develop a layer of obfuscation or misdirection, or one purchases privacy at great (exorbitant) expense.  Secret societies and sects have developed numerous ingenius ways to hide in plain sight, or to cloak their true identities by infiltrating other, more acceptable and agreeable cliques or groups.  For all of the quick and easy open access to such information, it doesn't tell much that is truly useful.  Discredited political orthodoxies linger on amongst students on campuses across Riskail, but mostly as affectations and extracurricular cliques, rarely as anything serious beyond the occasional art-riot or protest-party.  Factions transcend biology, being open even unto Abstract Intelligences and in some few cases there are Factions more powerful than some Houses.

There are 12 Ascendent Houses and 12 Descendent Houses, each one of which has its armorial insignia arranged in sequence around the circumference of the face of the Great Clock.  Every House has its hour either of the Day or the Night.  The Descendent Houses were once the Great Powers of Riskail, occupying the massive arcology-mansions along the First Tier, but they have since been supplanted by the Ascendent Houses which are not exclusively, nor parochially-tied to Riskail.  Thus it is that the older Houses of Riskail are eager to find some way to reclaim or regain their former glories, often engaging in risky ventures, subsidizing voyages of exploration, or supporting Mad Wizards or Insane Geniuses in the hopes of gaining an edge, an advantage, or an opportunity.  The Houses encompass both mercantile and corporate interests, and no corporation operates in Riskail that doesn't have patronage from one of the Houses.  The Nobility have their various ranks and titles based upon the lands they manage and/or the followers that they lead either through tyrannical or other means.  The accountant-heralds who register such things make no distinction beyond known and verifiable quantities and they do not judge the quality of such things as it is not their place.

Social Status and ones' Social Class is not so much fixed as firm. It can be modified and even transcended through merit, distinction, largesse from a Patron, or escaped from via elevation earned through various forms of service, bribes, achievement, blackmail, contractual arrangements, marriage, inheritance, bequests from philanthropic-types, or other means. It is a much cherished notion, myth and enduring bit of folklore that even one born amongst the lowest of the low can rise above the mob to become great and powerful. Genes can be augmented, modified, enhanced or even replaced when needed or desirable. All attributes can be improved upon or refined via implants, surgery or other adjuncts either machine-wise or organically, even psychically in some cases. Death itself is not a barrier to personal accomplishment as the Helical Cathedraes provide eventual rebirth and recovery for even the poorest of the citizenry who cannot afford a more prestigious form of reincarnation.  And of course the Necrosophics are always an option as well, should one wish to shed this mortal coil and go off into the deep blackness of the void-between-worlds.

The underclasses aren't just economically disadvantaged, in many cases they are entirely other races or species including varieties of Urfolk, Drones, Androids, Biocastes, Registered Hybrids and the Animal Descended.  Many of the servants who are not machine-derived are genetically designed and engineered to serve in their tasks, duties or roles.  This includes a wide array of clone-slaves, pod-born, vitroids, militarized paramanity, and ornamental humanoids such as the Solmiri, Kashurri and Treen.  Dronecops are bred from registered lineages of wasp and hornet-derived templates established millennia ago as ruthlessly reliable peace-keeping forces.  Urfolk are those Animal-Descendent peoples who have been able to develop their own cultures and to find some place in the greater scheme of things such as the goatling sherpas of Immakku or the Lutrin river-tenders or the various avials, saurials or weirder forms like the milicae or loricae descended from human-millipede hybrids. 

What is human and what is not becomes harder and harder to answer and after a while you have to wonder if the matter of sentience and the capacity for thought is a separate issue and needs to be broken-out from the whole human question.  Where do machines fit into this mix?
"The fact is, that civilisation requires slaves. The Greeks were quite right there. Unless there are slaves to do the ugly, horrible, uninteresting work, culture and contemplation become almost impossible. Human slavery is wrong, insecure, and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends."
The Machine Descended form Abstract Collogues (collective simultaneous dialogues amongst closed-loop AI networks), and Materialist Robotic Enclaves, often with cyborg interface-races to act as go-betweens and envoys betwixt the biologicals and the mechanicals, the abstract and the manifest. The Drem serve no one -- not even themselves. The Vokad are a hyper-obsessed technological-materialist faction of autonomous robots who are so caught-up within their own frame of reference that they no longer consider humanity to be of any concern, often overwriting or obliterating or annexing huge swaths of human-occupied matter with no regard for the consequences. The Nhlorul are colonizing communities of nanological hybridized swarm-sentience that discretely occupy various and sundry voluntary host organisms, but what they are hiding from is unclear. The Jeheen are immaculately sculpted and designed synthetic humanoids who serve as vectors for a vast array of Abstract Consciousness who move, act and speak through them when they desire to deal with slowmanity. But those are the more visible, more articulate forms of the Machine Descended, those who interact or respond to humanity as equals, superiors or competitors. Far more numerous are the masses of unnamed and unknown machines that make up the Infrastructure, the systems that keep the gates open and the meta-scale public amenities such as the River Senube running, or the machines who occupy the matrix underneath the aesthetically variable cobblestones of the very roads and walkways of the cities of Riskail and maintain and repair them continually, perpetually, eternally.

I guess that defining humanity is going to have to be worked out as part of the overall setting and not be some sort of gimme.  Using the mechanics of a game to work out the answer could be fun.  It certainly is a central theme of a good deal of fiction and non-fiction as well.  I'm certainly not going to answer the question definitively any time soon, especially as we learn more about the way matter functions on the below-nano scale, mycelial networks, nature's extremophiles, and all sorts of other stuff that we're only just now getting around to perceiving let alone studying.  Any definition for what constitutes humanity will just have to get worked out though the fiction and the game and maybe that's okay.

Beyond the Ninth Pylon-Gate (Siret-Nile, Part One)

This is an except from the post: Nothing New Under the Sun? that was originally posted to the Old School Heretic Blog.  Below are the Riskail-specific bits.  You can check-out the original post for the other, non-Riskail stuff.

Besides having been a life-long interest of mine, Egypt is one of the real-world places that I've been looking to for inspiration in terms of how to handle the implications of the whole Chakra-to-Attribute sub-project.  They have a wide variety of tombs, and as I develop the High Tombs of Yuddoth for Riskail, I want to incorporate some more versimilitude into things.  Also mummies are cool.  So are Scarabs (especially as a possible player race option).  And then there is the little matter of the rivers that flow into Devukarsha via the Twelve River Gates that form the cascading waterfall of the River Senube.  Each of those twelve rivers flow into the Senube's headwater-basin from another world.  But those rivers aren't just the waters flowing from one world to another, oh no; each of these rivers has their own networks of river-gates leading back across hundreds (in some cases thousands) of worlds, all of which are interconnected into one incredibly complex ecosystem encapsulating worlds without end, at least according to the prevailing public viewpoint.

The Ninth River cascades from its massive pylon-flanked gate from Thebu-Amur which in turn flows back to the pylon-flanked gate to Khefnum which flows back to Ntalat and on back to Rhakishu and to Djefbek and onwards and ever backwards through countless worlds to Siret iteself.  Siret is the main seat and legend-shrouded core-world for the numerous subsidiary, splintered and sequentially-segmented cultures that dominate the banks of their shared river that all the ancient records claim connects back to the very Nile itself.  Certain banned and censored scrolls dare to whisper subversively that anyone daring enough or auspiciously guided by the gods themselves just might be able to make it back to Old Earth by following the river backwards to its source.  Several such attempts have been recorded, none have returned.  Most people don't think it's a worthwhile endeavor.  The media are reluctant to cover such attempts as they tend to be utter wastes of time.  The Teeth of Xobek, sharp rocks jutting out of the river like black crocodile teeth, make the passage backwards treacherous, dangerous and incredibly difficult and they only become more numerous, and some say aggressive, the farther back one goes.  Even mentioning a previous attempt gets people uneasy, making the more pious perform various apotropaic gestures and stirring-up bad auspices for those around anyone so crass as to raise such an uncomfortable subject to the light of day like a corpse disinterred by tomb-thieves.  It is considered very bad form, poor manners and a terribly vulgar thing to do in public.  There is also the matter of the plagues that have come down along the river from whatever lies before Siret, terrible plagues that have lain waste to several once-elegant metropolises that now stand as barren and deserted ruins and grim monuments no one will visit for fear of the hideous death that awaits anyone foolish enough to expose themselves to the plague-phorms.  To speak of what lies before Siret is to invoke plague, pestilence and a wasting death.  It just is not done.

And this does not even cover the amiteret (leopardpotamus-crocodile hybridized hominids who ritually remove the hearts of their foes in order to prove their fearsomeness in combat), the amaunetiri (horned and plumed snake-things that willfully and purposefully flood the river unless placated through sacrifice or bribery) , babadru (nasty and all too intelligent baboon-things),  mutontu (wicked harpy-ish vulture-falcon war-forms) or the other feral and vicious creatures who prey upon the unfortunate, the ill-advised and unprepared.

In time, as such things are wont to do, the plagues passed and life returned to some semblance of normality for the survivors.  The river-gates remained open, the Siret-Nile flowed onwards and the once Great Houses of Siret-Nile became a memory, a myth and a cautionary tale told to the young who grow a bit too brash or cocky in their youth.  There are still numerous Dynasties along the Siret-Nile, immortal emperors and philosopher-pharaohs who rule over great and shining city-states along the banks of the river or who maintain roads and canals that let their people access the river from behind fortified citadels where autoi and chitoi servitors stand vigilant and ever watchful for the next black barge, the next plagueship orginating from one of the dark and deadly plague-ravaged worlds that lie out before Siret itself, past the Teeth of Xobek, where no one sane willingly goes and no one has ever returned.
"Out of our... lineage, minds will spring, that will reach back to us in our littleness to know us better than we know ourselves. A day will come, one day in the unending succession of days, when beings, beings who are now latent in our thoughts and hidden in our loins, shall stand upon this Earth as one stands upon a footstool, and shall laugh and reach out their hands amidst the stars."  H.G. Wells
The Discovery of the Future (1902)
Along the lush and fertile banks of the Siret-Nile are numerous Dynastic Enclaves founded upon the various Successors, Inheritors, and other bio-sects that have descended from the Nine Great Houses of Siret-Nile, each of which was founded in antiquity by a collective of biomantrists who had acquired, each in their own ways, the gene-profiles and lineages of every known and recovered potentate and noble from the myriad dynasties of Egypt's glorious days in the Deep Past.  Each of the Great Houses of Siret used these gene-profiles in their own ways both aesthetically and reproductively to recreate ancient lineages or to form fresh new combinations that partook of both the ancient past and the living present.  For decades the Great Houses of Siret-Nile busied themselves with developing their gene-based arts and building their carefully designed societies, each one following the river through the various gates along its banks to their own private worlds where they each set themselves up as allied techno-satraps and divine-emperors, philosopher-kings and pharaohs.  A golden age ensued and the Great Houses of Siret-Nile fell prey to the principle of diffusion.  They allowed their numbers to spread out, to scatter amongst the worlds along the various branches of the river-gates that in time they had little in common with one another and even less interaction.  Then the plagueships came down the river.  Whole megapoli were robbed of their incarnate populations in the space of mere weeks or even days.  The Great Houses fell into chaos, fear and turmoil.  Demagogues and warlords arose from amongst the decimated populations and the virts as well, each promulgating a program of violence or extermination, either seeking to conquer the domains left bereft of their kindred or setting off across the unknown regions of their respective worlds to settle far, far away from the river that had once been the very core and spine of their collective civilization.  Many city-states fell to the plagues, even more were ruined in pointless internecine warfare or rioting or bizarre religious ecstasies rooted in the most primal reaches of the human psyche that so many of the Great Houses had thought they had evolved beyond.  
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